HUL to rebrand Fair & Lovely as spotlight shifts to fairness creams

Brand experts as well as the advertising regulator Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) have been vocal about the need for change
Fair & Lovely, one of the country’s best-known brands, will no longer woo consumers by playing up its skin-lightening properties. In a strategic shift, Hindustan Unilever (HUL) will drop the word 'fair' to make way for a new name for its Rs 2,000-crore brand, as it strives to be inclusive, the company said on Thursday.

The move comes against the backdrop of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ global movement raging across the world. On Monday, Johnson & Johnson had announced that it was exiting the fairness category in India and West Asia following a review of its portfolio. Sanjiv Mehta, chairman and managing director, HUL, said, “We are making our skin care portfolio more inclusive and want to lead the celebration of a more diverse portrayal of beauty. In 2019, we removed the cameo with two faces as well as the shade guides from the packaging of Fair & Lovely, and the brand communication progressed from fairness to glow, which is a more holistic and inclusive measure of healthy skin.”
The shift comes after years of criticism of fairness creams, estimated to be Rs 5,000 crore in size and used by both men and women in India, that these products promote gender discrimination.

Fair & Lovely is both the leader and pioneer of fairness creams in India, having launched in 1975, and has borne the brunt of the controversy surrounding the category.

Celebrities, experts, and the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) have repeatedly emphasised the need for marketers of fairness products to adjust and adapt to the changing definition of beauty, which is about accepting people as they are. While the ASCI has guidelines in place for marketers of such products, in February, the health ministry proposed stiff penalties for those making misleading claims about fairness.
There was no clarity yet on what other players such as Emami or L'Oréal proposed to do. A mail sent to L'Oréal India elicited no response till the time of going to press.

A spokesperson of Emami, which owns the 'Fair & Handsome brand, said the company was studying all implications currently. "We, as responsible corporate citizens, value consumer sentiments and take cognisance of the holistic approach that is required to be taken to address their needs. We are studying all implications currently and evaluating internally to decide our next course of action," the spokesperson said.
But brand experts expect companies to change their marketing tactics as protests grow louder around gender discrimination and stereotyping. Some other players in the category include Proctor & Gamble, Himalaya, Lotus Herbals, and Nivea.

Ambi Parameswaran, founder,, said, "We may see surrogate advertising of fairness, like we see in the alcohol business. The shift from fairness to confidence has already been made by HUL. That may be the way for all brands to go. If consumers still want to look fair, they will decode these messages as they want and figure out which brands to use."

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel